Colin remained seated in the pew, watching the congregation file out with smiles and nods and murmurs. Religion wasn’t exactly his thing, but in this situation he hadn’t been sure what else to do. His usual methods of crisis management — binge drinking, comfort eating — were, for various reasons, not available to him right now. So he’d wandered around, hollowed out, a facsimile of a normal, functioning person, until he found himself here. He needed help. This is where people came for help, wasn’t it?
I love you, she’d said.
The vicar stood by the door, thanking her parishioners, humbly accepting their thanks and praise for the sermon that Ryan hadn’t listened to. He’d been replaying the scene in his mind’s eye, his heart drained, aching, his mind foggy with doubt about whether it had happened the way he was remembering, whether it had happened at all.
He’d shaken his head. I don’t care, he’d said.
And although he’d waited years to hear her say it, he honestly didn’t. Not now. Colin chewed again on the skin to the side of his thumbnail. He’d been doing that all morning and now it was hurting. He tasted blood. Good, he thought, Cut me, bite me, I bleed. I’m not dead… He felt a momentary chill disappear down his spine at the final part of that thought. He pushed it away, shivered it out. It was nothing, the church was draughty.
You can’t stop me, she’d said. Don’t stand in my way, Colin.
The vicar said her final good-day, and stepped back into the church. Colin bowed his head. If he looked like he was praying then maybe she would… No, she’d sat down on the far end of the pew. She took her time before she spoke. You’re welcome here, friend, she whispered. If I can be of any assistance, I am happy to talk, but otherwise I’ll leave you be. God be with you.
It would be terrible if something bad happened, now, as a result of this misunderstanding, she’d threatened.
Colin shivered again. He closed his eyes, said nothing. The vicar took the hint and made to stand up. There is something you need, you came here for a reason, he scolded himself. He stuck out his hand. The vicar paused, mid-rise, then sat back down.
It would be terrible if something bad happened, now, as a result of this misunderstanding, he’d agreed.
There is something you need, you came here for a reason, repeated the vicar, word-for-word, quietly leaning close so that he wouldn’t have to shout his problems to the empty church. Her breath was hot on his cold, cold cheek. Colin felt the itching in his gums, bringing the bile to his throat, and already knew, as he turned to her, as he said the words, that it was too late.
Holy water, he gasped, and all the crucifixes you can lay your hands on. You’re going to need to raise an army.